Super Moon in the Bus Graveyard

 

Powerlines

I had been sitting inside all day and was tired of it. I took the phone I had been spinning lazily in my hand and texted my friend Juan.

‘Hey, what are you up to?’

I had suddenly had a a crazy idea.

‘Wanna go watch the Super Moon tonight in a field with me?’

Juan’s response came quickly – he was down. He too had not been up to much this afternoon.

‘What kind of field are we talking about…?’

‘Hahaha. Don’t worry,’ I typed back, sensing that the ellipses were meant to convey a slight hesitance. ‘I’m not going to murder you, I promise.’

Soon we were off in my tiny car – two lawn chairs thrown in the back. The bottles of beer clinked softly in their small red vinyl lunchbox as my car bumped down the road.

We arrived not long after. Parking at a nearby business, we collected the beer and folding chairs and made our way across the busy road.

“So yeah, I don’t know if we’re technically allowed to go in here but…” I trailed off innocently.

“Yeah, it definitely seems like we’re NOT supposed to.” Juan laughed, gesturing to the locked metal gate.

“Technicalities,” I shrugged and handed him my folding chair.

I bent down and swung my body through the space between the wood of the fence.

“Plus, you’re a law student,” I said, bringing my other leg to the ground. “If we get into trouble, I know you’ve got our backs.”

The field I had promised was actually more of a dirt lot. It was a huge open area that sat between a housing development and a stretch of wild brush growth. Every so often, the lot would be filled with hundreds of cars for the area’s local gun show.

Now, however, it was occupied by a huge row of yellow school buses. There must have been at least eighty, lined up side by side. As we walked by them, we saw handwritten paper signs in the windows: NISD, CCISD, AUSTIN ISD, SAISD. In less than two weeks, they would be no doubt be driven out of here and dispersed across South Texas to transport returning students to school.

Although it was still light out, walking along the monolithic row of buses was still a bit eerie.

BusGraveyard

 

A small brown hare jumped out in front of us and dashed off into the brush to our left. Our eyes followed it and we saw that beyond the once-green vegetation, partially hidden, sat a creepy-looking ranch of sorts.

“What if someone is watching this place and shoots us?” Juan said with a nervous laugh.

“Oh man, that would be the most boring job ever!” I replied. “Can you imagine watching a dirt field like this all day? In the heat?”

Mild concerns slightly assuaged, we continued walking along. I stopped every so oten to snap pictures while Juan told me about the recent goings-on of his life.

Eventually, we found a spot right next to two gigantic electricity power towers.

We unpacked our chairs, cracked open our beer and sat there talking about our lives.

Behind us, a row of school buses bound for Corpus Christi sat watching in silence. Twenty or so feet in front of us was a long fence that protected a row of backyards. At one point, I caught a glimpse of a pair of sunglasses peering over one of the fences at us.  Apparently they didn’t think that we were much of a threat.

Our beer eventually ran out and we went to examine the buses behind us. To our surprise, they were open! We cracked open the sliding door and slowly made our way inside. We climbed the steps and instantly the smell of New Car hit us. These buses were brand new! We quickly exited, not wanting to disturb a brand new vehicle.

Powerlines

By this point, it was almost time for the Super Moon. We sat and watched the sky change as the sun made its journey on to the other side of the world. Wispy clouds burned in the sky and the massive power lines above us hummed with energy.

Soon, the Super Moon emerged on the horizon. It was massive and orange and we watched it ascend into the dark sky. It illuminated everything – I was able to see Juan clearly in the pale light it exuded. I took more than a dozen pictures on my phone, hoping foolishly that one of them would result in something other than a fuzzy ball of light. None of them did.

As we were sat watching the moon, mosquitos feasted on our legs and arms. When a large moth flew into my hair, prompting a flurry of shrill curse words, I knew it was time to head out. We packed up our chairs and began our trek back to my car. The moonlight gave the row of school buses an even creepier feel and we might have walked faster past them than we had on our way in. The brown hare bolted across our path again, bouncing effortlessly across the dirt.

We had most definitely trespassed but we did it responsibly. We took our trash with us, leaving nothing but our footprints in the dirt. I’ve always liked the traveler’s adage: “Take nothing  but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, waste nothing but time.”

And that’s just what we did.

 

Rain and Rainbows, 雨と虹

 

ビショビショだね〜

ビショビショだね〜

 

As a child, June always began with a rush of excitement. School was on the brink of letting out for the summer, my birthday was right around the corner and the air seemed to buzz with the promise of adventures waiting to be had.

In Japan, however, I learned to my dismay that school was still in session during my birthday month. Schools in Kumamoto did not get out for summer vacation until mid-July or so. And even then, their summer break was only a couple of weeks long.

I remember the chorus of shocked “EHHHHHHH”s and resentful “IIIII NAAAAA”s when I told my sixth graders that Americans get three months off for summer vacation. The homeroom teacher threw me a scared look and then cast a wary glance at their class; I’m sure she feared an uprising of Japanese children who demanded a longer break from school.

“WHAT DO YOU DO FOR THREE MONTHS?!” they screamed incredulously.

“…forget EVERYTHING we learned.” I said, only half-joking.

The month of June, it seemed, was incredibly different in Japan. There, the air grew heavy with moisture and dark clouds covered the entire country. At night, the rice field directly behind my apartment came to life with hundreds of frogs croaking loudly from within.

Days later, as if responding to the amphibian rain orgy, the skies would open and torrential rain would begin to fall in sheets for days at a time. It was so unrelenting that the rice field would routinely flood and I would often find myself opening the curtain to lakefront property.

IMG_2835

Without fail, the calming pitter patter on my window would put me back to sleep so I always had to set at least four different alarms to make sure I got up. When I eventually rose, whatever motivation I had had for the day would sink down through my chest and disappear somewhere into my body.

I would make my way downstairs slowly and see my living room and kitchen bathed in gloomy gray light instead of brilliant sunshine. The intense humidity gave my walls a sheen of moisture, causing the posters to crinkle sadly. Sometimes they would simply give up and detach themselves from the rubber cement that held them in place.

I had to learn to consistently check for and clean up everyone’s least favorite guest during rainy season: mold. It sprouted everywhere, looking as if a tree sprite had run gaily through my apartment. During my first miserable rainy season, I was horrified to find it all over my floor. It stretched from my bathroom to the front door in a massive carpet. I hadn’t known that it was mold. I hadn’t even noticed that my floor had darkened.

Or maybe I had noticed and just didn’t care. Contrary to the feelings of excitement and opportunity that June gave me in the US, Rainy Season brought with it an overwhelming sense of melancholy and listlessness. I wanted to do things, but the onslaught of never-ending rain dampened any kind of desire I had.

Whenever I did venture outside my apartment, it was only to go to and from work. Wrapped in a poncho and rain pants that did little to keep me dry, I would hop on my wet bike seat, and ride to school – ignoring the rain that stung my eyes and blurred my vision.

This was my face most mornings.

This was my face most mornings.

When I finally arrived at school, I threw my soaked shoes in my cubby and padded barefoot through the hallway to the staffroom, leaving a wet trail behind me like a slug.

“Ohayou gozaimaaasu”, I would say as I entered. I always tried to be as cheerful as I could, but some days were harder than others. Especially during rainy season.

“Ohhh Ian Sensei,” a teacher would call out to me. “今日、自転車?” they would make an exaggerated bicycling motion and rock back and forth as they looked at me.

“Yes,” I would answer them in Japanese. “Today, bicycle. Every day, bicycle.”

After the fourth or fifth time of explaining to all of my teachers that my bicycle was indeed my only means of transportation, it got harder and harder to be patient with them.

“Ohhh,” they would say some mornings. “ビショビショだね〜”. You’re soaked, aren’t you?

“ちょっとだけ!” I would respond, my hair hanging in front of my face in wet spirals. Only a little! My sarcasm never translated well and they would always giggle innocently as I resisted the urge to wring my hair out over their desks.

ビショビショだね〜

ビショビショだね〜

Aside from the weather, another huge difference between June in Japan and June in the USA is the celebration of Pride.

Before I went to Japan, I never really saw Pride as something worth my time. I figured that it was just a bunch of drunk white people dancing around and sporting garish, risqué clothing while riding giant inflatable penises down the street.

I went to a Pride once when I was 17 or 18 in Las Vegas. I remember being underwhelmed and not really ‘getting’ it. Since then, I’ve never really had much of a desire to participate in or go to another one. Even though San Antonio Pride is a big deal, and even supported by the mayor, I’ve still never made the trek downtown for it.

This year will be different, though.

In Japan, the topic of being gay rarely came up – if ever. I would constantly be asked questions like ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ and ‘What’s your type?’ and ‘Do you like Japanese girls?’.

I would answer these questions vaguely – not giving any more information than I needed to. No, I definitely did not have a girlfriend. My type? Nice people (never stating a gender). Yes, I liked Japanese girls, they were very nice. I had several girl friends who were Japanese.

The longer this went on, the more frustrated I became. Coming from a country where I was out to everyone from my family to my coworkers and classmates, it was torture to dance around these issues and be so vague. I wanted nothing more than to answer honestly: that I didn’t have a girlfriend, but rather a boyfriend who was Japanese. I wanted to tell them how we’d been dating for two years and how he was great and how being gay is nothing like the ridiculous caricatures that are paraded across Japanese television.

But I didn’t. Instead, I kept my mouth shut, rolled my eyes and bit my tongue harder and harder as I answered the same questions again and again.

It was tough for me because as much as I wanted to be the cool openly gay American ALT in my city, I knew I wasn’t prepared to take on the responsibility of such an announcement. There were too many uncertainties – how would the students react? How would the teachers? My board of education? If a problem were to arise, CLAIR (the organization behind the JET Program) would surely have my back…but was that really something I wanted to dive in to?

The questions and constant assumptions of my heterosexuality were annoying and difficult to deal with some days, but it was the price of choosing what I did. I’ve known openly gay ALTs (GAyLTs, as I lovingly say) who have had great experiences and were completely accepted by everyone. For me, the risk of outing myself and possibly changing my entire experience in Japan was just not worth it.

Now that I’m back in the US, though, I’m reminded this June about what it means to be LGBT. With marriage bans being struck down left and right, the president officially declaring June as LGBT Pride Month and emerging conversations and education about trans* issues, it’s an exciting time to be in the United States.

 

Things that I had taken for granted before living in Japan are once again readily available to me: Being able to go to gay bars without having to go to a different city. Being around other openly LGBT people. The ability to bring up and discuss things like LGBT rights in public without feeling like I’m committing an enormous faux pas.

And, of course, the fact that it’s SUNNY.

As Pride events pop up throughout the city and I meet other people who share a common thread with me, I find myself feeling very different about Pride than I have in years past. I feel an appreciation for my local community, proud of how far the LGBT rights movement has come and optimism for its future. This must be what Pride feels like. And I’ve missed it.

While I miss Japan and the life that I had there every day, I am grateful to be back in the USA (for the time being) to experience this. This is my first June since coming back and I’m so happy to be experiencing more Rainbow than Rain.

Schadenfreude: D’y’all wanna go again?!

When I first moved to San Antonio, my little brother Vaughn and I went to Six Flags Fiesta Texas. We were super excited to have an amusement park in such close proximity to us.

The morning sun beat down on us as we entered the gates to the park. My hair was not yet used to the wet heat of Texas and responded by turning itself into a massive ball of frizz. I was already sweating and my orange shirt was starting to cling to my body.

Within minutes of entering the park, we were stopped by an employee with a camera and asked to pose. I did so happily while Vaughn stared awkwardly at the cameraman from behind his Harry Potter glasses. To this day, I still receive emails from Six Flags trying to sell me this picture. One day, I’m going to buy it and send it to my little brother – it’s possibly one of the worst photos of us ever taken.

We rode all kinds of rides, bought overpriced food and zoinked ghosts on the cute Scooby Doo ride. All in all, it was a great day.

One of the strongest memories of it, though, was when we were standing in line for a ride. It was in the boardwalk area of the park; the wood released the heat of the sun in a massive, smothering wave.

After some research, I’ve discovered that it’s called ‘The Frisbee’.  It looked super intimidating. It was a large circular disc that had seats lining the outside. Sticking out of the middle of the ride was a large pole of sorts that all of the seats were facing. It looked a bit like an old toy top.

When the ride started, the outer rim would begin to spin. After a minute or so, the pole would move the entire thing back and forth and swing it like a pendulum. All the while, the seats would continue spinning.

The Frisbee

My brother and I watched with a mixture of excitement and hesitance. This ride looked fun…but also pretty intense. Judging from the laughs and screams of the other riders, it couldn’t have been THAT bad.

As the ride came spinning to a stop, we were able to see the faces of the riders more clearly. Most of them were laughing and smiling, some looked a bit sick. Immediately, my eyes were drawn to one woman in particular.

Her brown hair was styled in a way that made me think she was a mother with two kids in junior high that were on the soccer team. She wore sunglasses over her eyes and a sunburn on her face. I imagined that she smelled like sunscreen mixed with a bit of BO and that she carried a massive floral tote bag. She seemed to be the type of mom who could produce anything from antiseptic spray to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to frozen water bottles wrapped in paper towels.

I watched the riders as the spinning slowed – laughing face, laughing face, laughing face, Sickly Woman, laughing face, laughing face, laughing face, Sickly Woman. Eventually, it came to a stop and I could see her in plain sight.

Her body was slumped in the seat and she was shaking her head back and forth. She looked as if she had seen better days.

Suddenly, I heard an excited female voice ring out through the speaker. It was the ride attendant.

“D’y’all wanna go agaiiiiiin?”

A cheer rose up from the riders. Laughter and whooping from all sides. All sides except one.

“Wha? What? No! No!” I saw the woman’s mouth form words as she slowly realized what was going on.

“I saidddddd,” the ride attendant said, louder and more excited this time.

“D’y’all wanna go agaiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnn?!?!”

Again, cheers and laughter sounded from the pit of seats below her.

“Noooo!!!” the woman was yelling now. She waved her arms clumsily, impeded by the bright yellow harness. Her clunky jewelry danced up and down her wrists and sparkled in the sun. I watched her sunburnt face turn a darker shade of red as she used all her strength to project her clear disapproval at this turn of events. “NO NO NO!”

“Alriiiight!” the ride attendant squealed. “Let’s go again!!!!”

The sounds of pistons and gears clicking in to place filled the air as the circular row of seats lurched into motion and began to spin slowly.

My eyes were locked on the protesting woman. Even through sunglasses, I could see her face morph in to one of horror and defeat. Over the din of the ride and the crowd cheering and laughing, I could just barely make out what she was saying.

“NOOOO” she was screaming as she spun out of my vision.

I saw her again on her way back around: “-OOOOOOO”.

On the third trek, I saw that she was still raging:  “AHHHH! GOD DAMMIT NOOO”

and so she went again…

I eventually lost sight of her as the rotating disc picked up speed began to rock back and forth. My brother and I devolved into laughter at what we had witnessed. It was schadenfreude at its best: There was nothing good about being trapped on a ride that you had no desire to ride again…but watching it happen to this poor woman was just so funny.

After a short time, the ride slowed once again and we watched to see how the woman had fared. I caught sight of her and saw that she was slumped even more in her seat and looked absolutely miserable.

When the gates opened for us, my brother and I rushed forward to experience the ride for ourselves. As our harnesses locked in place, I looked out and saw that the sunburnt woman had apparently composed herself enough and was now yelling at the ride attendant. She clutched her huge tote bag angrily with one hand as she waved her other finger in the girl’s face.

Perhaps the attendant deserved it, perhaps she didn’t. After my brother and I got off the ride, we both felt like were going to throw up. I can’t imagine having ridden on it twice.

Reflecting on it now, I think that this could be a nice analogy for life. Sometimes you’re stuck somewhere and, although you desperately want to get off, you find that you don’t really have much control over the situation. Even though it makes you feel sick or less-than-pleasant, you don’t have much of a choice other than to just go around again. During or after, you can yell at the ride operator or take it out on other people, but it won’t really do much good.

The most important thing is how you handle it. If anything, you’ll have a funny story to tell at the end of it all.

And thus ends this babbling, introspective story. Thanks for reading!

I love you…but I can’t travel with you.

Credit to Bill Watterson

Credit to Bill Watterson

Traveling is great. The experience of throwing yourself into a new location and culture that can, at times, be supremely different from your own, is thrilling. It’s a unique rush for me.

My most recent trip to New Orleans really brought something to mind, though: A travel experience can hinge greatly on who you travel with – even more so than where you go.

Take my friend Yasmin, for example. We have been friends for years – years. In that time, we’ve  grown extremely close and she is almost like an older sister to me. She provides me with excellent advice, calls me out when I’m being a dumb ass and is firmly grounded in her life. She’s a great person and I’m so fortunate to have her as a friend.

But I’ve learned that we can’t travel together.

Before our trip this past weekend, we were both super excited – sending each other messages and emails that expressed how many days away our trip was. And emphasizing how badly Yasmin ‘needed’ this trip.

So with all of this hype building for it, by the time we left, I was rarin’ and ready to go. Austin to New Orleans is an eight hour drive – quite a long trek.

As we drove past Texas farmland, through the metropolis of Houston and over Louisiana marshes and swamps, I kept conversation going. I would comment on things, ask questions pertaining to Louisiana Life, relive interesting stories and read out funny signs that I saw along the way (Really, a huge billboard denouncing Evolution? That’s hilarious!).

I think on long road trips, a lull in conversation is definitely natural. For me, though, silence can be very uncomfortable. To be next to someone in a car for that long and not speak is a very strange thing. Poor Yasmin, it seems, was of the opposite opinion. After about Hour 6, she told me that she needed some quiet. After that, I realized, that I had not really stopped talking since we left.

For someone who is not used to it, I can see how I’m a bit overwhelming – a kind of ‘noise overload’. But I was not aware that I was apparently that intense. Oops.

I’m sure this is what my friend was imagining.

This ‘noise overload’ seemed to last the entire trip for Yasmin, however, and it made for pretty awkward outings. I felt like if I were to comment on something or talk to Yasmin, I would disrupt the sudden mental barriers that she had thrown up. ‘Is it okay that I’m asking you something?’ I felt like asking. ‘Are you okay to speak? Are you okay with me speaking?’

Like I said, it made for some awkward outings. To me, when someone is super quiet in my presence, it feels like they are ignoring me. I then, in turn, become extremely self conscious and upset because I feel like I’m annoying them. It’s this whole weird, Extrovert thing.

I still had a good time wandering around New Orleans, but I feel like Yasmin had a less-than-stellar time. Her sudden withdrawal from interacting with me was extremely jarring and I felt like I needed to walk on eggshells and limit what I said in her presence. For me, that’s pretty maddening.

Some part of me wants to think: ‘Have you exceeded some kind of talk/listening quota or something?’, and ‘If you’re this sensitive to noise, then why the hell would you go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras? Especially with someone like me?!’.

I realize, though, that it isn’t a fair criticism of anything. The thing to realize is that while we are great friends and have been for years…we can’t travel together.

This most recent trip really got me thinking about just how important WHO you travel with is. It can be just as important (if not more so) as WHERE you travel.

People are different when they travel. It can take a toll on some people and they can act in ways that you would never have expected them to. Traveling with someone comes with an entirely different set of dynamics and challenges than simply just hanging out with them. Everyone does it differently.

One of my friend’s lost her shit in Incheon Airport when our group was separated during check-in. It turned out that the airport staff was separating us in order for the line to go faster, but when it’s the end of an 8-day trip and you’re exhausted and confused, things like these can seem like world-ending problems.

These things can happen to even the most composed and grounded of us. When you find yourself in a frustrating situation during travel, it’s not unheard of to react in a way that might be more intense than you normally would; even for things that seem insignificant. I had a friend who went on a five minute tirade when a waiter at a restaurant poured him the wrong kind of wine (complete with bits of cork in it). Similarly, my friends and I got lost in a seedy area of Bangkok and wandered for what felt like hours to find an elusive club. After a while, it all just got to be too much and I ended up acting like a dick to those who don’t necessarily deserve it.

I’ve been there. Traveling is an experience that can bring out different sides of people. That’s why it’s important to choose your travel buddy (or buddies) wisely. Here are three things to keep in mind that I’ve learned in my time traveling:

1) Discuss Expectations

Before you go anywhere, talk to the buddy(or buddies) that you’re planning to travel with. Some people are cool with staying in hostels; others find the idea revolting. If you’re jonesing to ride an elephant in Thailand, make sure that everyone in your party is comfortable with it – and be prepared to go it alone if they aren’t. If you want to have a day to just relax, let it be known. This doesn’t mean you have to plan and micromanage every day of your trip (unless that’s your thing), but you should definitely discuss with your travel partners what you hope to do and get out of the trip.

2) Don’t take things personally

A lot of times, when shit hits the fan, it’s due to several factors. Once, in Taiwan, my friend and I got into an argument at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. It was hot, disgustingly humid and I was exhausted from having walked around the city all day. I certainly did not MEAN to take out my frustration on him…but I did. After a few minutes of icy silence, we relaxed and things returned to normal.

It’s important to realize that a lot of the time, there are other things going on that can cause people to act differently than you expect. Try to keep a cool head and know that the frustration might not be completely directed at you. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s an important thing to remember.

3) Don’t be afraid to ‘Take a Break’

For someone who had never really traveled by himself, being alone in a foreign country was pretty daunting; especially when I understood a fraction of a fraction of what was going on around me. However, when things got a bit too tense between me and my travel buddies, I found that it was beneficial to split up for a short while. Sometimes I would pair off with someone who I was still getting along with and sometimes I would just fly solo. This is a great way to diffuse any kind of tension and give everyone a break from each other. Being together with someone for extended periods of time can be exhausting (e.g., my poor friend Yasmin).

It should go without saying that this should be done smartly, though. Even if you’re annoyed at your travel companions, letting them know where you’re going and the estimated time that you’ll be back is important.

While traveling is great, remember that not everyone travels the same way. . Some people prefer to experience it ‘on the real’ and sleep in hostels, wander backstreets and eat anything they can find. Other people prefer to spend the money to stay in a nice place and opt for tours and recommended restaurants.

There are several different ways to experience a location and I don’t think any of them are really ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (except for maybe sex tourism…ugh). It’s important to not just be mindful about the culture you’re visiting, but also the dynamics of whoever you’re going there with. It can definitely bring out different sides of people, but isn’t that the magic of travel?!

What are your experiences with this? Have you ever had a travel buddy that you’ve just gotten sick of? Have you ever been that annoying travel buddy (like I was)? What do you think makes a great travel partner? Do you think unfavorable situations can be avoided? If so, how?

I would love to hear thoughts and opinions!

Texas™

 I’ve said it before and I’ll say it forever: Texas is like its own country. Growing up as a military brat (and having massive wanderlust), I’ve lived in a fair number of places both in and out of the United States. When I first moved to Texas though, I found myself experiencing culture shock within my home country.

 What WAS this strange place that my family had decided to relocate to? What in god’s name were Aggies, Big Reds and Whataburgers? What was this strange dialect they were speaking? “Fixin’ ta” “Howdy” and “all Y’all” were not things I thought people actually said. Even the Spanish was different here! Chanclas, Chones and Wachale were words that I heard often but had no clue what they meant. And I speak Spanish!

 I had never lived anywhere where people pride themselves on being from a certain place and it took some getting used to. Now, coming back after living abroad for three years, the Texas pride is surprising me all over again

 You can see the love for this state everywhere. DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS WOMEN proclaims a bumper sticker on a bright red sports car. A Cadillac with PURO PINCHE SPURS etched into the back windows rolls by proudly. SECEDE reads another bumper sticker slapped on the back window of a huge rumbling truck – the message almost completely obstructed by the mounted gunrack.

2708 FUCK YEAH, TEXAS AVE.

The Texas flag is plastered on everything from T-shirts to belt buckles to enormous plastic drinking cups. It is not uncommon to see it painted on the curbs in front of houses along with the address.

The thing that continues to surprise me the most about Texas, though, is the advertising. Turn on a TV here and you’re sure to see at least two commercials boasting about their product being the ‘Best in Texas’.

It still feels very surreal to watch commercials that are catered specifically to the Lone Star State. It’s like I’m in a sort of purgatory bubble that separates me from the outside United States of America.

Dairy Queen, for example, is almost unrecognizable to me. When I lived in Las Vegas, Dairy Queen was a just a place to get ice cream. Maybe if you were dying of hunger and not worried about E-Coli you could maybe be convinced to eat there…maybe.

Here in Texas, though? Dairy Queen seems to be something of a staple restaurant. A Texan friend once told me that a town isn’t considered ‘real’ unless it has a Dairy Queen. We then proceeded to have a rather heated argument about whether or not it was from Texas. He swore up and down that DQ had started and was only in this state. For the record, it’s from Illinois (but interestingly enough, the franchise DOES have the most stores in Texas).

Of course there were Dairy Queens in other places. I couldn’t believe that I had had to defend something I thought was common sense. That is, until I saw one of the Dairy Queen commercials for myself. The ad touted chicken strips and white gravy – something that I had never seen anywhere else.

“For the best tasting eats and drinks in Texas…” the announcer twanged as thick slices of Texas Toast bounced across the screen, “…DQ just tastes better!”. At the end, the logo appeared in front of a waving Texas flag while a country singer crooned “DEEE CUUUE THAT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT TEXASSSS”.

 Holy shit.

Dairy Queen isn’t the only company to have this kind of marketing, either. Major truck companies have ads that claim: “FORD: THE BEST IN TEXAS” or “BIGGER IN TEXAS…BETTER IN A DODGE”. These commercials are often packed with so much Texan imagery that I feel like I’m going to choke on a tumbleweed whenever I watch them.

It seems that advertisers have come up with a brilliant strategy – the seal of TEXAS. The concept of TEXAS has in itself become a sort of product that companies successfully slap on their product and sell en masse.  With so many ads that are targeted to a very specific (albeit enormous) population,is it any wonder that Texans like my friend believe so staunchly that things revolve around the Lone Star State?

 Ethnocentrism aside, when it comes to state pride, Texans are by far the clear winners. Ironically though, Lone Star denizens seem to be the only ones who feel this way about Texas. In a recent Business Insider survey, Texas was voted the least favorite state in the union. Perhaps a bit harsh, but oddly enough it was also voted one of the nicest states in the same survey.

 In my time here, I’ve learned that many Texans don’t really care what anyone else thinks about them. Personally, I find the omnipresent reminders of where I live both obnoxious and endearing at the same time. As I continue to readjust, I’m cringing less and less when I hear things like “All y’all” and “Just Like You Like It”.

 I’m remembering that, while Texas isn’t perfect, it’s really not a bad place.  And with so much here to explore in this ginormous state, it’s almost impossible to not find something to like.  

 So, while I still can’t drink Big Red and I couldn’t care less about football of any sort, I’m enjoying myself here. Living in Texas is definitely an experience like no other and I’m just along for the ride.   

 

Unless you live in Alaska…in which case this makes no sense.

 

Adventures in Dialysis: Talkative Texans

First a bit of backstory:

In January, my grandmother suffered a massive heart attack.

I’m sure most expats can probably agree that a situation like this is something that we all dread above everything else. An emergency of some kind that happens back home while we’re stuck thousands of miles away powerless, wanting to know everything that’s happening and frantic to help in any way we can.

After a voicemail and a text from my mother that I should come home (at the doctor’s suggestion), I immediately purchased a plane ticket home and left the next day. My supervisor and Board of Education were all extremely understanding and did not give me any hassle. Thankfully, during my five-days in the states, my grandma’s condition improved dramatically.

IMG_7644  As I boarded the plane back to Japan, a niggling fear that something would happen again settled in my heart. The stress and uncertainty of being 7000 miles away from my family in a time of crisis like that was pretty rough and it definitely shook me up. It really put into perspective just how far away I lived.

On the long flight back, I had a lot of time to think about the future and my next steps. On the JET Program, ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers who don’t know) have the option to extend their contract for up to five years. We’re given the recontracting paperwork in October and we have to deliver our formal decision in February. While I was already leaning in the direction of not recontracting, this incident pushed me to make my decision to return home for good in August.  I decided that while I loved Japan, my area, my friends and students, shit back home was a bit too crazy for my liking and it was for the best to be back with my family.

As my final months in Japan passed, I kept in close contact with my mom and demanded constant updates on my grandparents. The news I heard was rather unsettling: my grandma had fallen down the stairs of her house multiple times and had to have her toe amputated due to an infection caused by her diabetes. My grandpa was having a lot of trouble walking and was beginning to forget things.

The closer it got to my departure from Japan, the worse my grandparents’ health seemed to be getting. My grandma’s attitude was worsening and my grandpa’s kidney function was extremely low — low enough for him to be put on dialysis.

All of this was stressful and disheartening to hear however it reaffirmed that I had made the right decision by returning home.

When I got back last week, I saw that my grandparents were indeed in pretty rough shape – worse than they had been just eight months previous. However, they were overjoyed to see me (and I, them) and I think that my being back has picked up their spirits considerably.

The day after I returned, I began taking my grandpa to dialysis. I don’t profess to know too much about dialysis, but it’s basically a way to cleanse the blood from my grandpa’s body since his kidneys aren’t functioning well enough to do it effectively on their own. He’s hooked up to a machine that takes his blood, filters it and then returns it to his body.

This whole process takes about three to four hours and is done three times a week. As I currently have no job and an abundance of free time, I take my grandpa to and from the dialysis clinic.

In the waiting room, patients and their friends or family often sit and wait – sometimes for the entire day. There are a group of Hispanic ladies who seem to stay at the clinic for the entire duration of their person’s dialysis. Coolers of drinks and food resting by their legs, they chatter away at each other in Spanglish and watch the horrendous daytime TV that the waiting room is subjected to.

“You know my son likes when I make enchiladas in the microwave. Pero sabes que he calls them ‘lazy enchiladas’! Como que son lazy?! Si las ponga en el oven, sometimes they get all duro!”

“Ay, I do that too! Y mi hijo le gustan these tacos that I make when I shake the tortillas còmo este y they get all puffy. Èl los llama ‘tacos wangos’! He says ‘mama, make me the tacos wangos! Ha ha ha”

Everyone in the waiting room seems to be going through the same long, drawn-out ordeal that dialysis is. When someone comes into the waiting room, usually the Club de First Esposas will greet them with a cheerful ‘Good morning!’ and a round of smiles. I find this to be incredibly sweet and it’s something about the USA that I’ve missed.

Another thing that I had forgotten Americans – especially Texans – do…is talk. Jesus Christ do they talk.

Recently I was picking up my grandpa and waiting for him when a woman who I had seen once before leaned over and struck up a conversation with me. She was a small woman who looked to be in her sixties with horn-rimmed glass and a short hairdo that said ‘I’m a hip woman, aren’t I?’.

“So when are you back to school?” she said with a knowing smile.

I explained to her that I was no longer attending school and that I had just recently returned from teaching English in Japan.

“Oh, that is so nice!” she gushed. “You know, I work at a hotel chain and we just recently got some Japanese people in who are doing work experience down in housekeeping – well they’re in housekeeping now. Before they were in the kitchens learning how to do all that but they’re just so CUTE!” Her face pursed as she were talking about a litter of newborn kittens.

“And you know, I feel so bad for them because they’re just so LITTLE!” she went on. “You know how these Japanese – well you know, orientals – are just so TINY and I just feel so bad for them you know because those women who work there are so mean!”

I blinked, gave a slight nod and said something to the effect of “Oh.” and not ‘Did you just say the word ‘Oriental?’’ like I wanted to say.

“I just see them sometimes and they look so SCARED and I just want to go up and give them a hug and say ‘Ohh honey it’s okay!’ but I do think now that they’ve become a bit more acclimated to the job and they’re doing much better! But I still, those women down there can be downright MEAN, I feel so bad!”

Mind you this is the first time I had ever talked to this woman. I had forgotten how at ease Texans (Texan women in particular) are at talking with complete strangers.

“I just take Bob here to dialysis.” she said with a point at the closed door that led to the facility inside. “He’s my sister-in-law’s brother. And you know they were doing it for some time but it just got to be too much and I said ‘sure I don’t mind taking him’. And I’m glad I did because with Chris and Janet’s schedules boy it would be impossible, I tell you.’

I had no idea who Chris or Janet were.

“And you remind me of their son, you know.” the woman went on. “Billy used to wear his hair just like that, is yours natural?”

I told her that it was, in fact naturally curly.

“Gosh that’s nice,” she sighed. “You know Billy doesn’t wear his like yours much anymore. His job won’t let him, you see.” She shifted in her chair and leaned forward a bit. “He’s in the FBI.”

“Oh,” I said feigning all the interest I could at the abstract person who this woman was biographying.

“Yes and it’s so hard on Chris and Janet sometimes because they’ll say ‘oh, how’s work?’ and he’ll say ‘I can’t tell you’ you know? And boy it just drives them crazy. He’ll sometimes tell Scott something but even if he does, you know it’s nothing much! The other day, Debra said to me ‘it’s so frustrating isn’t it? I wish I knew SOMETHING.’ I said ‘I knoww’-.”

It was then that the door opened and my grandpa came through with the nurse. I leapt up (probably faster than I should have) and bid the woman farewell. I realized that I now knew the name of her brother-in-law, someone’s son and three other names of her family members but she had never told me hers.

Being around extremely friendly people like this is a definite shock to my system. I remember now how Texas is a place where people will talk to you for whatever reason. Is it hot outside? Did the Spurs/Cowboys/Mavericks/Rockets win/lose? Is Obama ruining the country?

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know who the people in their life are. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with what they’re saying. It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t care less about the price of onions at HEB compared to last year. Texans will find a reason to strike up a conversation and, when they do, you had better be prepared to listen.

By the way, I still have no idea who Scott and Debra are.

In my old country…

 I’ve not yet been back a full week but already, the comparisons to my former life are coming hard and fast. 

 “Wow. In Japan, there’s no tipping and the portion sizes are SO much smaller.”

 “It’s so much more humid in Japan! It’s still hot here, but I find I’m not sweating as much.” 

 “Yay, American toothpaste! A lot of Japanese toothpastes don’t have fluoride.”

 

 At the moment, my family and friends are dealing well with me constantly linking everything I come across back to Japan. However I know that the responses will soon turn from expressions of interest to eye rolls. “Yes, Ian. You’ve told us about how they eat horse meat in Japan.” 

“But but…” I’ll say, desperate to enlighten them about an aspect of Japan that they didn’t previously know. “Did you know that when it comes to grapes, a lot of Japanese people-“

“-don’t eat the skins? Yes, you’ve told me that as well.” 

This is sure to be disheartening, but I think it’s just part of the decompression process of living as an expat. I’m now back in a very familiar environment that is now very different. However at the same time, I’m continuing to draw on my experiences from a very different environment that grew to be very familiar. 

If that makes sense? 

At this point in my re-entry phase, I still can’t stop comparing everything to my life in Japan. I feel like I’m Phoebe from the Magic School Bus (nostalgia trip, anyone?) 

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At my old school…nobody spoke English…and people weren’t this fucking fat! 

In the Magic School Bus, Phoebe is quotable as saying ‘At my old school…’ followed up by some incredibly obvious statement i.e. ‘At my old school…we never rode on bees’. And, much like my family and friends, the class just collectively rolls their eyes at her and nod. 

 Yes, Phoebe. We know that your life before coming to this racially diverse class of characters was different. No need to keep saying it. 

However, just like this unfortunately-clothed third grader, I’ll need to keep this in mind as I continue to adjust to Texas.